Some Groups of Interest: Tilters and feet first fans

Have been having some very interesting communications lately from folks in two Yahoo Groups that have some overlapping interest in gyro vehicles. If you are not familiar with Yahoo Groups they are an interesting hybrid of forum and mailing list that can be very useful for several different communication needs.

(For example, I belong to one computer security related group that sends out one email per week to all members. That's all. Other people use the Yahoo group system as more of an opt-in discussion list--membership can be more tightly controlled than many forums. The nice thing is that you don't have to you get every single message that goes out to the list, you can get a weekly digest of all postings.)

With that in mind, you might want to consider these two groups:

Tilting: "This group is for sharing information and ideas about Tilting vehicles. HPV and all power source enthusiasts are welcome, but please focus on the CHASSIS."

Feet Forward: "This mailing list is for the discussion of Feet Forward motorcycles in all their shapes and forms. This covers both the various mega-scooters such as the Honda Helix, Foresight, Yamaha Majesty, Suzuki Burgman and Piaggio Hexagon but also the various low volume and prototype FFs such as the Ecomobile, Quasar, Phasar, Voyager and so on."

There is also an interesting web site that focuses on feet forward designs.

Happy surfing!

I'm Loving IT: Humor for geeks

Recently I was writing a column about computers and romance for the February--as in Valentine's Day--issue of a regional 'lifestyle' magazine (how I get talked into these things I don't know). Anyway, it brought to mind one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons. That same cartoon also came to mind when I was writing my previous post about 'loving technology.' But then I discovered something sad, a lot of young people had never seen the cartoon. And then I figured out why: it first appeared in 1995! Heck, some CTOs weren't even teenagers then. So, here it is:

And as an added bonus, here is a link that leads to just about every Dilbert strip ever, arranged in superbly simple one-click reading order. You can waste spend literally hours reading these.

In some ways the early- to mid-nineties were the golden age of Dilbert and I encourage you to stock up on some of the collections from that period (Shave the Whales is a good place to start). Here's a list to get you started. Enjoy! And remember, if the boss catches you reading Dilbert, you are doing anti-competitive lifestyle market research by thinking outside the box and running a straw man up the flagpole to see which way the wind blows in order to optimize the mission statement going forward, thus getting all hands onboard with the primary goal setting agenda-ism.

Health Care Dollars: Got your missing billions right here

Further evidence today to support my theory that the free market is an inefficient provider of health care. Happened on a short article in today's business section of the Florida Times Union. Just a one page piece about a small local company, E&S, with operations mostly located in Amelia Island and seven employees. What do they do? They work on behalf of hospitals to collect money that insurance companies owe them (and would not pay them without prompting--keeping that money to themselves). E&S has just five clients right now. Pretty small stuff huh?

Well consider this, last year the company identified about $850 million in under-reported claims for its clients. That's right $850 million! For just 5 clients! Using just 7 people! The implications are many and some of them are amazing. The cynic in me wants to buy stock in E&S because you just don't see many business models this good (the company had revenues of about $1 million per employee, taking a 25% cut of the amount collected for clients).

But think of how much waste this implies. There are about 6.000 hospitals in America. Some 3,000 are medium to large hospitals (100 or more beds). There are 900 with over 300 beds. Even if we assume that the 5 clients of E&S each have 4 large hospitals the math is pretty staggering: Over $120,000 in uncollected insurance money per hospital bed. There are about 950,000 hospital beds in American hospitals. Total uncollected insurance money could easily top $100 billion.

What a waste!

PS/2 to USB Adapters Don't

Just bought a couple of small converter plugs that allow you to plug a PS/2 keyboard into a USB socket. But guess what? They don't work. I have scoured the net to find out why and the basic answer seems to be that PS/2 to USB adapters are a kludge and very unpredictable (people use them for mice as well as keyboards, apparently with very mixed results).

Boo hiss I say. I wanted to use my lovely old IBM PS/2 keyboard on my laptop to reduce the wrist strain from all this blogging, but noooo. Looks like it ain't gonna happen. Now I have to go through the whole send-it-back process. What a pain. If things are known not to work reliably they should say on the package: May not work with all PS/2 devices. I would have given these things a miss and carried on my search for a good USB keyboard.

The Nerve: Bush/Cheney challenge Iraq plan critics

So Bush challenges Iraq plan critics to come up with a better idea than theirs. Cheney tells Fox News "I have yet to hear a coherent policy out of the Democratic side, with respect to an alternative to what the president's proposed in terms of going forward."

Well, excuse me for asking, but who got us into this mess in the first place? A Republican White House and Congress. Am I the only one who thinks there's a limit to how much help the president should now expect, given that he made Iraq the debacle that it is by ignoring a lot of advice that would, if heeded, have avoided the situation we currently face? Besides, didn't a bipartisan group of experts just offer Bush a seriously considered alternative, which he flatly rejected?

The Gyro Hawk: What was it and where did it go?

My thanks to Roger Crier of Birmingham, England (home of BSA Motorbikes and a lot of other great engineering) for reminding me of the Gyro Hawk.

A video and "info pak" featuring this machine were advertised in several magazines in the 1990s. In fact, I ordered the video and still have it somewhere. Along with the video came a copy of the 1967 article in Science and Mechanics about the Gyro-X. The video itself was not terribly impressive. I haven't watched it in a while but as I recall it was basically a machine--looking like the one pictured in the ad--making slow turns in a parking lot. No thrilling chase shots of a highway-ready vehicle. I didn't resent paying for thing as it clued me in to the Gyro-X. Over the years, a number of people have asked for more info on the Gryo Hawk but I don't have any. And as people have pointed out, the Roadhawk company is not reachable at the address listed. (There was phone number in the ad but I have clipped that to avoid bothering whoever owns that number now.)

If you can shed any light, please leave a comment. I have had an intriguing email from someone who may have spotted a Gyro Hawk and has promised to send pictures the next time they see it. Fingers crossed.

Some Days Daze Me: Bush/Gonzales want my mail/life

Some days I pick up the newspaper and get dazed by the headlines before I even have a chance to get caffeinated [note to self--drink coffee before looking at newspaper]. The front page of today's Florida Times Union had the following headlines: "Feds want to know where you go online" and "Mail snooping." I am not kidding when I say that I checked the date to see if it had suddenly become April 1. But no, this was either an out-of-season hoax or reality. Yet what sick kind of reality is this? These headlines were not in big print. The big print was reserved for a football game, which is apparently more important to some people than civil liberties. Here's most of the top half of the front page:

So, Attorney General Gonzales "wants your Internet provider to keep track of every web site you visit." And we are told this right after "the most digital holiday season ever." In other words, as the major corporations of our planet urge us to live more and more of our life online, the government wants to know more and more about our lives.

I'm trying not to blow a gasket over Gonzales' position. If you read the article you can tell there is not really a fixed position at which to target one's arguments, which is either tactical brilliance or administrational incompetence. Let me just state what is obvious to most people who have spent more than a few days studying this whole Internet thing, including the ways in which it can be abused: Serious paedophiles are not going to get caught by the Internet strategies Gonzales is proposing. The most serious bad guys have been online since before the Internet. They are adept at anonymizing their online activities.

What is predictable with some certainty--should Gonzales get his way--is a whole heap of misdirected misery for innocent schmucks who happen to check the spelling of paedophilia in Google [as I just did] or take a wrong turn when trying to find toys for boys.

In other words, innocent citizens will have to curb their use of the Internet quite drastically for fear of the SWAT team at the front door scenario. As for First Amendment protected Internet erotica, just stop thinking about it! That will become way too risky. Best just abstain. And don't even think about sublimating those naughty thoughts into steamy letters to your [legal age consenting adult] loved one.

Why? Because, as the tiny sidebar above reeals, our president reserves the right to read our mail in "exigent" circumstances. And of course, we all know what those are, right? No? Well surely that's the point.

They had a phrase for this in the old country (that English-speaking country with a system of government on which upstart America was going to improve). They call it "Defence of the realm." Civil liberties suspended until further notice to serve the interests of the Crown. Meetings banned. Letters intercepted. Property seized. Thumbscrews and hot irons firmly on the table. And the date today is? January 4, 2006. Aaaaargh! It's getting so bad I'm starting to have some sympathy with those who would rather go to the game than bang their heads against this stuff. Go Gators!

A Hot and Happy New Year

I just noticed that, thanks to the wonders of Internet technology, and some good-hearted humans, the ancient annual ritual of the Biggar Bonfire is being broadcast this New Year. Check out the webcam link lower down the page. Seems a nice way to share the spirit of the season and a good excuse to wish everyone around the world a Happy and Prosperous 2007! May your pixels stay bright and your bits not byte.

If you are into this seasonal stuff, there is also a webcam to cover another Scottish seasonal phenomenon, the Maeshowe, a Neolithic monument on Orkney "that catches the last rays of the dying sun each winter solstice." Sorry this posting is too late for this year, but you can put it in your Google calendar for December 21, 2007.

Thanks to Wikipedia, another wonder of Internet technology+good people, you can learn the connections between different Yule celebrations (some of which are very pagan and Norse it would seem). Including your own virtual log fire.

[Updated 1/7/07: Just noticed this additional Christmas+New Year+Yule+fire connection, the Orthodox Christmas celebration, an example of which is here.]

Biggar Bonfire Postponed! Catch it January 1

Here's hoping 2007 is a great year for you and yours!

In the spirit of the season, below is a link to The Biggar Bonfire, a weird and wonderful New Year event we enjoyed when we lived in Scotland. This year the bonfire was postponed until January 1 due to 70 mph winds.

The good news is, you may still catch it today--via their webcam--at about 4:30 Eastern on New Year's Day. Here's the main link:
Here's the webcam (with chat room where ex-pats and bonfire afficianados from around the world congregate):
And check out related events and history here:
Basically, in Biggar, since time immemorial, the locals have parade up the main road (which is blocked to through traffic for the evening) carrying big torches, urged on by the sound of bagpipes. Then they light this huge bonfire that eventually gets so hot you have to retreat to the far side of the town square. The bus shelter used to melt, until they moved it. Carousing and piping continues well into the next day. They used to bake potatoes and sausages in the embers for breakfast. Not sure if the fire department still allows that. Both January 1 and 2 are national holidays in Scotland to help folk recuperate.

Happy New Year!

Years and Years of Dilbert

Just stumbled on a page from which you can read any Dilbert strip without ads or complicated navigation buttons. You just click forward and back through dates, or edit the URL to get to a target date. For those who want a trip down memory lane or have a LOT of time to kill in cube land.